Former Mouseketeer and beach-movie mainstay Annette Funicello died Monday at the age of 70 after 25 years of battling multiple sclerosis. Anyone born after 1970 might not appreciate Funicello’s pop cultural significance, but let’s just say that she did that whole Disney-to-adult-star transition long before Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justins Timberlake and Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus.
Here, a few things you may not have known about the late legend:
Walt Disney himself discovered her at a dance-school recital in 1955. He’d instructed his minions about what he was looking for: "Go to a school and watch the kids at recess. Watch what happens to you. You’ll notice that you’re watching one kid. Not any of the other kids, but sooner or later your gaze will always go back to this one kid. That kid has star quality. That’s the kid we want to get in The Mickey Mouse Club." He spotted exactly that when he saw 12-year-old Funicello appear in a selection from Swan Lake.
She began her recording career while still on The Mickey Mouse Club, despite her admitted lack of vocal prowess. During one of the show’s "serial" segments — basically mini-teen dramas — Annette played a country girl who comes to live with relatives in the city. One episode featured her singing a song called "How Will I Know My Love," despite what she described as her "three-note range." Thousands of fans wrote in asking how they could buy it on record, so Disney asked her to record it. Producer Tutti Camarata invented her "sound" when he found that her voice barely registered on the recording, so he added "an overlay of a second Annette voice," creating a distinctive echo effect. She’d go on to hit the pop charts several times more throughout her career and release several albums, including Annette Sings Anka, Hawaiiannette, and Dance Annette.
Her first romance was an on-set one — with fellow Mouseketeer Lonnie Burr. The preteen lothario of The Mickey Mouse Club wasn’t the only boy on set who pined for Annette, but he was the only one who had the guts to put the moves on her. The two held hands on carpool trips to and from Disneyland appearances and shared a first kiss.
She had a weakness for cute boys. She crushed on Paul Anka (whom she’d later date), Elvis Presley, Tab Hunter, and Guy Williams (who played Disney’s Zorro) during her time on The Mickey Mouse Club. She even snuck over to the Zorro set to catch a glimpse of Williams despite strict orders to the contrary from Walt himself. Williams signed a photo of himself for her, and she slept with it every night until the frame cracked.
She became The Mickey Mouse Club’s breakout star because she got so much fan mail — 6,000 letters per week at her peak. TV networks put a lot of stock in letters as a gauge of popularity, and soon insisted that Annette get as much screen time as possible. "My son is six years old and has shown no noticeable desire for girls," one mother wrote to her, "but he insists on seeing you daily." Another fan said what many others were thinking: "Annette, in my book, you are beautiful. I dream of you every night."
Hollywood.comcorrespondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong wrote about The Mickey Mouse Club’s history and significance in her book Why? Because We Still Like You. She is also the author of Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, due out in May. Visit her online at JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.